Fire-fighting aircraft from Germany, Italy and the Netherlands headed to Portugal on Monday as the country struggled to contain the biggest wave of wildfires to hit so far this year, with hot weather set to continue.
Emergency services from the EU are fighting the fires in Portugal
Two French Canadair water-dropping planes and one from
neighboring Spain that arrived Sunday were already helping firefighters battle 21 blazes which burned out of control across the center and north of the country, the civil protection agency said on Monday.
A water-dropping aircraft from Italy was due to join the efforts later against wildfires which circled Coimbra, Portugal's third-largest city, and continued to threaten some built-up areas.
But three helicopters from Germany, along with 25 anti-fire
specialists, would likely not be deployed until Tuesday because they will arrive too close to sundown, the agency said.
Two fire-fighting helicopters sent from The Netherlands were also due to arrive Tuesday, Dutch officials said.
In total over 2,600 firefighters backed by 31 water-dropping aircraft and nearly 800 vehicles were involved in the firefighting operation in Portugal, which is facing its worst drought since 1945.
The President of the European Commission, Jose Barroso,
who on Sunday visited areas affected by fires in his native Portugal where he is on holiday, praised the aid offered by EU nations to Portugal.
"We are all very impressed by the size of this problem. But it is with satisfaction that we watch European solidarity once more at work," he told reporters in northern Portugal, in comments broadcast on Lisbon-based TSF radio.
Portugal appealed for help from its fellow European Union member states on Saturday after the number of blazes raging out of control in the country rose above 50, the highest single day tally so far this year.
The fast-moving wildfires had already charred at least 12 homes on the outskirts of Coimbra, located some 200 kilometers of Lisbon, and forced the evacuation overnight of some 60 people, local officials said.
With a change in wind direction, Coimbra itself was no longer threatened by the flames, but firefighters were on guard against the possibility of flare-ups in the charred areas near the city.
"It was a terrible night for the people of the city and for
everyone involved in fighting the fire," the governor of the
district of Coimbra, Henrique Fernandes, told state television RTP.
Forecasters meanwhile predicted temperatures would soar above a scorching 35 degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) in some areas, raising the risk of new fires, and remain high until at least Wednesday.
Emergency workers were evacuating residents from a village near Coimbra because of the the threat from the thick smoke and advancing flames, TSF reported.
Police said at least five roads in the center and north of the
country were closed because of the flames and smoke.
Calls for joint fire-fighting force
Speaking on French radio, Interior Minister Antonio Costa said meanwhile that Europe should combine its resources in fighting fires, notably by jointly building specialized water-bombing aircraft.
"It is essential to pool our resources because we have fires in Portugal, but tomorrow there could be others in Spain, in Italy, in Greece," Costa told French radio station Europe 1.
His comments echoed those of French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who on Sunday also called for the EU to set up a joint firefighting force.
Ten firefighters have died so far this year battling blazes in
Portugal which have already destroyed 134,500 hectares (332,000 acres) of land -- more than in all of 2004 when just under 130,000 hectares burned.